What Is Separation Anxiety In Dogs And What Can We Do About It?
Did you know that 14% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety? Is your dog one of them?
Firstly, lets discuss what separation anxiety actually is...
Separation anxiety is a behavioral disorder in dogs that is characterized by extreme distress and anxiety when they are separated from their owners or left alone. Dogs with separation anxiety may exhibit destructive behavior, excessive barking, urination, or defecation indoors, and intense restlessness when left alone.
Now, it's easy for you or I to see that destructive behavior, excessive barking or defecation are going to be deal breakers for most dog owners. So what to do?
I'll be honest, it is my belief that once a dog has reached maturity the anxiety will probably never fully go away. I say this because I've tried (and seen other trainers try) and I've never seen a dogs separation anxiety disappear once they are mature (12-18 months).
But we still have options.
Our options are:
Personally I don't know much about medications and I don't like the idea of drugging dogs...so I lean towards training. For advice on medication, I'd say consult your vet.
When it comes to training, the goal is to resolve the dog’s underlying anxiety by teaching him to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone. This is best achieved by crate training, but PLACE training would also be a great start.
When I advise crate training, no-one wants to hear it. It sounds like a band-aid solution which is partly true.
The crates primary objective is to keep your dog from eating something expensive, or eating something fatal.
The secondary objective is to teach your dog to self soothe.
This happens when our dogs have cried, howled, dug and protested for around 3-5 days, after which they accept that the crate is no big deal and relax. It's like a light switch.
From here, regular crating times teach the dogs to be ok alone. Another huge benefit of crate training is that the crate becomes a familiar, safe space to the dogs. Meaning that being crated at home, is the same as being crated at a family members house during Thanksgiving.
This gives you much more flexibility with your anxious dog, because as long as you have your trusty crate, your dog has a portable bedroom that you can take on road trips, family gatherings, etc.
With crate training, the anxiety doesn't go away, but the feeling of loneliness does go away.
I understand how heart breaking it is to see your dog in distress, and how inconvenient it can be to work your schedule around their anxiety. I have seen it with my own dogs and helped hundreds of dogs with their separation anxiety.
This is why we monitor anxiety in all of our Board & Train pups.
The boarding kennel at our Stratford facility (best dog training in Stratford btw!) actually helps the dogs resolve some acute anxiety of being away from their humans, and the presence of other dogs helps to shed what anxiety is left.
Lastly, if you have helped resolve separation anxiety in a dog that is a mature adult please send me an email and tell me how you did it! It might be the formula that can help develop a 'cure'.